(Translated from Bengali)
(From the Diary of a Disciple)
(The disciple is Sharatchandra Chakravarty, who published his records in a Bengali book, Swami-Shishya-Samvâda, in two parts. The present series of “Conversations and Dialogues” is a revised translation from this book. Five dialogues of this series have already appeared in the Complete Works, Vol. V.)
[Place: Calcutta, the house of the late Babu Priyanath Mukhopadhyaya, Baghbazar. Year: 1897.]
It is three or four days since Swamiji has set his foot in Calcutta (On February 20, 1897.) after his first return from the West. The joy of the devotees of Shri Ramakrishna knows no bounds at enjoying his holy presence after a long time. And the well-to-do among them are considering themselves blessed to cordially invite Swamiji to their own houses. This afternoon Swamiji had an invitation to the house of Srijut Priyanath Mukhopadhyaya, a devotee of Shri Ramakrishna, at Rajballabhpara in Baghbazar. Receiving this news, many devotees assembled today in his house.
The disciple also, informed of it through indirect sources, reached the house of Mr. Mukherjee at about 2-30 p.m. He had not yet made his acquaintance with Swamiji. So this was to be his first meeting with the Swami.
On the disciple’s reaching there, Swami Turiyananda took him to Swamiji and introduced him. After his return to the Math, the Swami had already heard about him, having read a Hymn on Shri Ramakrishna composed by the disciple.
Swamiji also had come to know that the disciple used to visit Nâg Mahâshaya, a foremost devotee of Shri Ramakrishna.*
When the disciple prostrated himself before him and took his seat, Swamiji addressed him in Sanskrit and asked him about Nag Mahashaya and his health, and while referring to his superhuman renunciation, his unbounded love for God, and his humility, he said:
(Words addressed by King Dushyanta to the bee which was teasing Shakuntalâ by darting at her lips — Kalidasa’s Shâkuntalam.)
— “We are undone by our vain quest after reality; while, O bee, you are indeed blessed with success!” He then asked the disciple to send these words to Nag Mahashaya. Afterwards, finding it rather inconvenient to talk to the disciple in the crowd, he called him and Swami Turiyananda to a small room to the west and, addressing himself to the disciple, began to recite these words from the Vivekachudâmani (43):
— “O wise one, fear not; you have not to perish. Means there are for crossing the ocean of this round of birth and death. I shall show you the same way by which holy men of renunciation have crossed this ocean.” He then asked him to read Âchârya Shankara’s work named Vivekachudâmani.
At these words, the disciple went on musing within himself. Was the Swami in this way hinting at the desirability of his own formal initiation? The disciple was at that time a staunch orthodox man in his ways, and a Vedantin. He had not yet settled his mind as regards the adoption of a Guru and was a devoted advocate of Varnâshrama or caste ordinances.
While various topics were going on, a man came in and announced that Mr. Narendranath Sen, the Editor of the Mirror, had come for an interview with Swamiji. Swamiji asked the bearer of this news to show him into that small room. Narendra Babu came and taking a seat there introduced various topics about England and America. In answer to his questions Swamiji said, “Nowhere in the world is to be found another nation like the Americans, so generous, broad-minded, hospitable, and so sincerely eager to accept new ideas.” “Wherever work”, he went on, “has been done in America has not been done through my power. The people of America have accepted the ideas of Vedanta, because they are so good-hearted.” Referring to England he said, “There is no nation in the world so conservative as the English. They do not like so easily to accept any new idea, but if through perseverance they can be once made to understand any idea, they will never give it up by any means. Such firm determination you will find in no other nation. This is why they occupy the foremost position in the world in power and civilization.”
Then declaring that if qualified preachers could be had, there was greater likelihood of the Vedanta work being permanently established in England than in America, he continued, “I have only laid the foundation of the work. If future preachers follow my path, a good deal of work may be done in time.”
Narendra Babu asked, “What future prospect is there for us in preaching religion in this way?”
Swamiji said: “In our country there is only this religion of Vedanta. Compared with the Western civilisation, it may be said, we have hardly got anything else. But by the preaching of this universal religion of Vedanta, a religion which gives equal rights to acquire spirituality to men of all creeds and all paths of religious practice, the civilised West would come to know what a wonderful degree of spirituality once developed in India and how that is still existing. By the study of this religion, the Western nations will have increasing regard and sympathy for us. Already these have grown to some extent. In this way, if we have their real sympathy and regard, we would learn from them the sciences bearing on our material life, thereby qualifying ourselves better for the struggle for existence. On the other hand, by learning this Vedanta from us, they will be enabled to secure their own spiritual welfare.”
Narendra Babu asked, “Is there any hope of our political progress in this kind of interchange?”
Swamiji said, “They (the Westerners) are the children of the great hero Virochana!* Their power makes the five elements play like puppets in their hands. If you people believe that we shall in case of conflict with them gain freedom by applying those material forces, you are profoundly mistaken. Just as a little piece of stone figures before the Himalayas, so we differ from them in point of skill in the use of those forces. Do you know what my idea is? By preaching the profound secrets of the Vedanta religion in the Western world, we shall attract the sympathy and regard of these mighty nations, maintaining for ever the position of their teacher in spiritual matters, and they will remain our teachers in all material concerns. The day when, surrendering the spiritual into their hands, our countrymen would sit at the feet of the West to learn religion, that day indeed the nationality of this fallen nation will be dead and gone for good. Nothing will come of crying day and night before them, ‘Give me this or give me that.’ When there will grow a link of sympathy and regard between both nations by this give-and-take intercourse, there will be then no need for these noisy cries. They will do everything of their own accord. I believe that by this cultivation of religion and the wider diffusion of Vedanta, both this country and the West will gain enormously. To me the pursuit of politics is a secondary means in comparison with this. I will lay down my life to carry out this belief practically. If you believe in any other way of accomplishing the good of India, well, you may go on working your own way.”
Narendra Babu shortly left, expressing his unqualified agreement with Swamiji’s ideas. The disciple, hearing the above words from Swamiji, astonishingly contemplated his luminous features with steadfast gaze.
When Narendra Babu had departed, an enthusiastic preacher belonging to the society for the protection of cows came for an interview with Swamiji. He was dressed almost like a Sannyasin, if not fully so — with a Geruâ turban on the head; he was evidently an up-country Indian. At the announcement of this preacher of cow-protection Swamiji came out to the parlour room. The preacher saluted Swamiji and presented him with a picture of the mother-cow. Swamiji took that in his hand and, making it over to one standing by, commenced the following conversation with the preacher:
Swamiji: What is the object of your society?
Preacher: We protect the mother-cows of our country from the hands of the butcher. Cow-infirmaries have been founded in some places where the diseased, decrepit mother-cows or those bought from the butchers are provided for.
Swamiji: That is very good indeed. What is the source of your income?
Preacher: The work of the society is carried on only by gifts kindly made by great men like you.
Swamiji: What amount of money have you now laid by?
Preacher: The Marwari traders’ community are the special supporters of this work. They have given a big amount for this good cause.
Swamiji: A terrible famine has now broken out in Central India. The Indian Government has published a death-roll of nine lakhs of starved people. Has your society done anything to render help in this time of famine?
Preacher: We do not help during famine or other distresses. This society has been established only for the protection of mother-cows.
Swamiji: During a famine when lakhs of people, your own brothers and sisters, have fallen into the jaws of death, you have not thought it your duty, though having the means, to help them in that terrible calamity with food!
Preacher: No. This famine broke out as a result of men’s Karma, their sins. It is a case of “like Karma, like fruit”.
Hearing the words of the preacher, sparks of fire, as it were, scintillated in Swamiji’s large eyes; his face became flushed. But he suppressed his feeling and said: “Those associations which do not feel sympathy for men and, even seeing their own brothers dying from starvation, do not give them a handful of rice to save their lives, while giving away piles of food to save birds and beasts, I have not the least sympathy for, and I do not believe that society derives any good from them. If you make a plea of Karma by saying that men die through their Karma, then it becomes a settled fact that it is useless to try or struggle for anything in this world; and your work for the protection of animals is no exception. With regard to your cause also, it can be said — the mother-cows through their own Karma fall into the hands of the butchers and die, and we need not do anything in the matter.”
The preacher was a little abashed and said: “Yes, what you say is true, but the Shâstras say that the cow is our mother.”
Swamiji smilingly said, “Yes, that the cow is our mother, I understand: who else could give birth to such accomplished children?”
The up-country preacher did not speak further on the subject; perhaps he could not understand the point of Swamiji’s poignant ridicule. He told Swamiji that he was begging something of him for the objects of the society.
Swamiji: I am a Sannyasin, a fakir. Where shall I find money enough to help you? But if ever I get money in my possession, I shall first spend that in the service of man. Man is first to be saved; he must be given food, education, and spirituality. If any money is left after doing all these, then only something would be given to your society.
At these words, the preacher went away after saluting Swamiji. Then Swamiji began to speak to us: “What words, these, forsooth! Says he that men are dying by reason of their Karma, so what avails doing any kindness to them! This is decisive proof that the country has gone to rack and ruin! Do you see how much abused the Karma theory of your Hinduism has been? Those who are men and yet have no feeling in the heart for man, well, are such to be counted as men at all?” While speaking these words, Swamiji’s whole body seemed to shiver in anguish and grief.
Then, while smoking, Swamiji said to the disciple, “Well, see me again.”
Disciple: Where will you be staying, sir? Perhaps you might put up in some rich man’s house. Will he allow me there?
Swamiji: At present, I shall be living either at the Alambazar Math or at the garden-house of Gopal Lal Seal at Cossipore. You may come to either place.
Disciple: Sir, I very much wish to speak with you in solitude.
Swamiji: All right. Come one night. We shall speak plenty of Vedanta.
Disciple: Sir, I have heard that some Europeans and Americans have come with you. Will they not get offended at my dress or my talk?
Swamiji: Why, they are also men, and moreover they are devoted to the Vedanta religion. They will be glad to converse with you.
Disciple: Sir, Vedanta speaks of some distinctive qualifications for its aspirants; how could these come out in your Western disciples? The Shastras say — he who has studied the Vedas and the Vedanta, who has formally expiated his sins, who has performed all the daily and occasional duties enjoined by the scriptures, who is self-restrained in his food and general conduct, and specially he who is accomplished in the four special Sâdhanâs (preliminary disciplines), he alone has a right to the practice of Vedanta. Your Western disciples are in the first place non-Brahmins, and then they are lax in point of proper food and dress; how could they understand the system of Vedanta?
Swamiji: When you speak with them, you will know at once whether they have understood Vedanta or not.
Swamiji, perhaps, could now see that the disciple was rigidly devoted to the external observances of orthodox Hinduism. Swamiji then, surrounded by some devotees of Shri Ramakrishna, went over to the house of Srijut Balaram Basu of Baghbazar. The disciple bought the book Vivekachudamani at Bat-tala and went towards his own home at Darjipara.